It happened again.
On the Working Voice Actor LinkdIn Group, the discussion had turned to ACX, the Audiobook Creation Exchange.
Of course we all want to know whether or not people are booking jobs and if it’s worth their time and effort. The answer to the first question is YES and to the second one: MAYBE.
It’s a fact that most best-selling authors don’t have to go to ACX to get their books published in audio format. Celebs will do their own narration, and a league of ten to fifteen distinguished gentlemen and women will read the rest, skillfully assisted by an audio engineer and a director, hired by Harper Collins or Hachette.
With the might of a marketing machine only a big publishing house can muster, the spoken version of a popular thriller is bound to become a resounding commercial success.
THE MINOR LEAGUE
In contrast, ACX is the home of the small potato; a sanctuary for vanity publications, second-rate writers, mediocre scholars and those rejected by Simon and Schuster. It’s a place where many try to break a leg and hope to break even.
For narrators, ACX is a bit like an agent. When you need them, they don’t need you, When they need you, you probably don’t need them anymore.
People are joining ACX in the hopes of making some money, but think of it this way. If the book you’ve been narrating is only vaguely interesting to a niche audience and the budget for marketing is zero, what kind of sales figures can you expect?
Is it really worth your effort? Is a royalty share going to pay the bills and solidify your status as a VO-pro?
Now, whenever I bring this up, eventually someone, somewhere will tell me:
“Okay, I might not make boatloads of money, but it’s such great experience. Everybody’s got to start somewhere!”
I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that working on an ACX title is a good way to get one’s voice-over feet wet, learn from mistakes and gain experience. The same myth is perpetuated when it comes to doing regular auditions.
People who take part in online cattle calls are often told:
“Hey, even if you didn’t book the job, at least you gained some experience… right? That alone makes it worth your time, energy and money!”
In my mind, you practice to audition; you don’t audition to practice. It’s a job interview. You don’t apply for a permanent position if you barely qualify for an internship.
If you’ve ever recorded a spoken book, you know that this is one of the most demanding and underestimated areas in the entire voice-over industry. Not only do you need to know what you’re doing from an acting perspective, you also have to know what you’re doing as the chief audio engineer.
Is this really where you want to get your feet wet? Are you sure? Why don’t you start by learning how to swim before you try to cross the English Channel? Or do you wish to drown in your own misery for a stupid stipend?
THE BIG BOYS
“Not so fast, my friend,” said a beginning colleague to me. “Playing in the minors such as ACX, really helps me hone my skills. That way, I can get myself ready to play with the big boys.”
Forgive me, but that’s not how I see it.
We can’t excuse our lack of skill, experience (or even talent) by telling ourselves: “It’s just ACX. It’s the minor league; a place to start out and if you’re good enough, move up in the business.”
If you believe you’re good enough to get paid for narrating and recording a novel, you must be held to certain minimum standards, whether you’re doing something for ACX or for a major publishing house. You owe it to the author, to the audience and to yourself, to deliver the finest product possible.
In my book, every client -big or small- is paying for my professionalism, and that is exactly what they get.
There is no major or minor league. There’s only major or minor talent.
LEARNING OR REFINING
As a voice-over professional, you will mature and get more refined, but you don’t get hired so you can learn on the job. Ever. You’re supposed to know your job.
As long as you don’t have a minimum level of expertise, you keep on training with a reputable teacher until you do. That’s how it works. You can never be your own coach because you’ll only get as far as the level of your inexperience.
If that’s true in pretty much any profession, why should it be different for voice-overs?
Here’s the hard part: getting ready to record your first audio book will take time, but I can tell you one thing.
Learning through trial and error will take even longer.
Putting out the products of those trials and errors is not exactly smart advertising, is it? The work you produce is going to be a testament to your talent for years and years to come. People will probably be able to access it well into the next century. It’s going to be part of your artistic legacy.
So, do yourself and your community of colleagues a favor. Only take on what you can handle. Don’t use your client’s time for your own practice. You will hurt yourself and the reputation of our profession.
And with those words, consider this chapter closed!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice